Well known for her moody shots and vibrant personality, Myrthe Mosterman is a cinematographer who persuaded an interesting career in the world of film. After finishing her masters in Film Studies she applied for film school to learn the craft of film making. She has been on a steep learning curve shooting shorts and commercials like 30 seconds mini movies. Reinventing her own style played a central role. Just now, she finished her first feature film 'Goud' with Rogier Hesp which premieres February 2020. In this interview she shares her take on the filmmaking process and gives us insider tips that can provide any aspiring filmmaker with valuable lessons.
You’ve managed to establish yourself really well in the creative industry in Amsterdam. Can you tell us where you started and how you managed your career path?
I’ve always been a big fan of films. Going to the cinema and having sleepovers while watching movies all night long was part of my youth. After I graduated I did a theoretical film study which introduced me to the sociological and philosophical approaches of storytelling. But it wasn’t until my last year of my masters in Film Studies at the University of Amsterdam that I discovered my passion for cinematography. Together with another student I shot a documentary. I was enjoying it so much that I decided to apply to the Dutch Film Academy after I finished my masters. When I got accepted, I tried to apply my film knowledge in cinematography class. However, I was so inexperienced I had to learn everything from scratch.
Up until this point, I’m very happy how things worked out. I consider my career to be luck but also a make or break in decision making. The first important decision I made after finishing film school was filming as much as I could, just to gain experience and establish myself as a cinematographer and not as an assistant or camera-operator.
How did you get to know the agencies you are working with?
A big change in work occurred after I was travelling through Asia with my husband. I came home with too many pictures (laughs), which I started uploading on Instagram. A lot of new people started following me and that gave me a way to connect to new directors such as Ismaël (known from commercials: Volkswagen, Albert Heijn, Calvé). I suddenly shifted from working on low-budget commercials to working on these big sets with great actors and a big crew.
What is your take on working with new people?
Making movies is a process in which working together is something you have to learn. You are dealing with all kinds of individuals and you have to get to know their strengths and weaknesses to make the best out of it all together. I also think you have to keep each other actively conscious of the decisions you make during the process. Also you have to keep reinventing your style so you won’t become lazy and fall into routine.
What’s your favorite project so far? And could you explain me how you've established the visual language?
Filming my first feature ’Goud’ (Rogier Hesp, Baldr Film which will be released in February 2020) has been a great experience. It was the first time that I have been working together with a crew for such a long period of time while discovering an appropriate language for the story. You have to keep the same look and feel throughout 90 minutes of film and keep the same locations exciting every time you shoot a new scene.
The film tells the story of a promising young gymnast who shares a big dream with his father: to win gold in the Olympics. But along the way his dedication starts to crumble.
Since the film consists of many sport scenes, I chose to take the camera in a hand held position. It was quite difficult to shoot because of all the fast movement in his performances and we had to rehearse multiple times to get our movements synchronised. The scenes at his home were generally shot on legs with longer lenses to enhance the loneliness he feels around his father. I am happy with the way the film looks and I am excited for people to see the outcome.
How do you make sure your vision makes it to the final images even though a color grader takes over during the last steps of the project?
I generally tend to use stills. Every evening I send out stills to the crew not only to process the day myself but also to show them the work we have done. I'll bring these stills and some other references to the color grading session. For the film Goud I worked together with Julien Alary, a Norwegian color grader who I got to know by the films of Joachim Trier, shot by Jakob Ihre. We had 10 days and we just started somewhere in the middle because it is hard to keep your continuity throughout the whole film. We ended up going back and forth the whole time.
Could you describe the process between you and the actor in Goud?
As a non-actor, the main character David Wristers had to learn everything about film. Meanwhile he taught us a lot about the world of sports. Even though he took acting lessons, I think it worked best when he stayed close to who he was. As a gymnast you can't perform the stunts on the highest level for 10 hours, so we had to think about editing versus the actual filming. It was important to let him decide what was physically possible for him to do. He was a natural talent though. There was this crying scene that was an emotional and very beautiful moment. It was very nice going through this whole journey together, seeing each other and the movie grow along the way.
Myrthe MostermanWorking creatively always comes with vulnerability and honesty.
Did you talk to the actors directly or through the director/ assistant director?
Usually I speak with the actors directly when it is about technical stuff. I was getting along very well with Rogier Hesp (the director) so the interaction and communication on set was very open. As a DOP you are usually the closest person actors are confronted with. I want to make them feel comfortable by recognizing their great work in the scene when it’s shot. When rehearsing a scene I can suggest certain camera-angles or mise en scene to a director. However, on set it is best when the director or assistant director is the only one speaking so people know who to listen to.
How do you experience honesty on set?
It depends on the people you work with, but I experience filmmaking as a very honest job. You have to work hard to get all your shots while being under time pressure. You are communicating fast and very directly. Working creatively always comes with vulnerability and honesty. You get to know the people from your crew very well by sharing ideas and opinions - and you have to know when to keep your mouth shut.
You’ve been photographing a lot too. The images you create are dazzling lots of people. Are you constantly looking for interesting light situations?
I think the main object of my pictures is light. The way I look at the world in light more than through people. No matter where I go, I always recognise the sunlight or different light situations. My pictures are never lit because the light is there already. It’s very pretty when the sun is hitting the sweet spot in the room or shines through a tree.
You have been filming many TV commercials. What do you like and what do you dislike about this genre?
The story driven commercials I have recently shot feel like mini movies with a small storyline and good actors. You tell a story with different emotions in a very short amount of time to touch people’s hearts - I lovwee that. It is very challenging to touch people’s hearts in 40 seconds. On the other hand, you are working for a client. That may result in making a lot of concessions. Therefore it can be frustrating. Especially when it's about shooting too dark which is a common discussion in commercials. That's because sunlight sells better, so they say.
How do you decide what kind of shots you want from a scene?
With the bigger commercials we usually work with a storyboard that serves as a guide for the client. This way they know what they are going to get. After the first location visits we will go through all the shots and edit them where necessary- or add some shots we would like to get. I use the storyboard as an inspiration and will not copy the shots. I do not see a storyboard as a limitation. It's more like an extended shotlist. When you have a script with a lot of visual effects, the shots do need to be prepared and supervised because a whole group of people is already working on them. Then a storyboard is very helpful and leading.
You like the Alexa Mini and a wide variety of lenses. How do you decide what lens set to choose for a shoot? And when do you decide to go for anamorphic lenses?
I like working with anamorphic lenses. I just really like the look and feel. They give this special blurriness, some kind of softness and a vignette feel to the picture. My favorite anamorphic lenses are the Kowa Anamorphics. A small set of old, lightweight and easy-handling lenses which give a soft effect in the highlights. Every project deserves its own lenses though and I like to try them all.
Do you like shooting with the Alexa best or are there other camera's that are also on your radar?
Alexa is definitely my favorite camera which I know very well. I also like being comfortable with one certain camera. With lenses however, I can experiment to see the different outcomes. I owned a Sony FS7 for shooting documentary, which was nice and easy especially taking it with me abroad. The film Goud was also shot on the Alexa Mini and Kowa anamorphic lenses. My new feature film project 'Zee van Tijd' by Theu Boermans for Kaap Holland Film starting in September will also be shot on an Alexa mini but the lenses we're shooting with are still not decided (laughs). It will be about a dramatic love story based on true events.
What was your biggest insecurity or false belief? How is this in reality? What did you discover over time?
My biggest insecurity is to be boring or not original. Even when people react enthusiastically about my work I can still be afraid that they will discover that I am actually not so special. Still, I know that I shouldn’t compare myself to others because in the end being a DOP is a very personal job, one can only film the way they do. It is okay to be inspired by others, but don’t get intimidated. It is important to trust yourself.